I woke up this morning and heard on the news that today is the American Cancer Society’s 35th Great American Smokeout. That brought back memories from our time living back east while I was going to dental school.
While I was toiling away in the dental clinic at school my wife, Cathy, worked for Georgetown University and Medical Center in the personnel department. One day she read about the Great American Smokeout. This was where all smokers were encouraged to put out their cigarettes for at least 24 hours on the third Thursday of November. There were a lot of smokers in her office in 1979 and just like in the TV series Mad Men they smoked in the office. While Cathy was not a smoker, and never has been, she would come home with her clothes and hair reeking from her co-workers’ smoke. She thought the Great American Smokeout was a good idea and decided she was going to try and encourage her office to participate in this event. This was one of the first years of the campaign and at that time they had a logo with a frog smoking inside a circle with a line through it. At least that’s how we remember it.
Cathy found the Great American Smokeout logo and cut out copies of it. She got to the office early on the day of the smokeout and put a copy of the logo in every ashtray in the office. As people trickled in that morning and reached for their ashtray they saw this little frog urging them to stop smoking. You could hear people through out the office as they found their ashtrays and wondered what was going on. People started talking, trying to figure out who was behind this. Most people thought it was funny, took the paper logo out of the ash tray, and lit up. There weren’t very many non-smokers in the office so it didn’t take long before people were stopping by her door and saying, “Hey, Cathy, did you do this?” She was happy to admit that it was all her doing and most people walked away chuckling and some said they might even give it a try.
Most people just wondered how Cathy had done it without anyone seeing her, however, one person was furious. She complained loudly to everyone in the office. This coworker went into Cathy’s office and berated her for putting that logo in the ashtrays. She told her she had no business telling people what to do. Cathy was shocked by how angry this coworker was over a small piece of paper in an ash tray. She didn’t take the ashtrays away and she didn’t forbid anyone from smoking. She just put a little note in each ashtray hoping that people might think twice before lighting up on that one day. One day out of 365. She thought she was just trying to get her friends to do something for their health and for hers.
A couple days went by and this coworker – let’s call her Mary - came into her office again. Cathy and Mary had always had a bit of a contentious relationship ever since they had both applied for the same job and Cathy was the one picked. So when Mary came into her office Cathy was wary. Then Mary sat down and cried and told Cathy that she had stopped smoking. She told her that she couldn’t believe how angry she had been over the logos in the ashtrays. She thought about it later and realized she was angry because she knew she needed to stop for the sake of her health. She said she decided right then and there to stop and she wanted to thank Cathy for giving her the push to do something positive for herself. Cathy was amazed and told Mary that if she needed any help or encouragement that she was there for her. A funny thing is, they became friends after that. And when we left Georgetown years later she was still a non-smoker.
If you are a smoker maybe today is your day to do something good for yourself and stop. And if somebody seems like they are nagging you about your smoking habit just know they are trying to help you help yourself. If you can stop for 24 hours maybe you can stop for good. We’d like to see you around for a good, long time.